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When my husband and I first started living together, we fought often—over everything.
Neither of us was willing to back down first, or set it aside, or even temper our point of view. We had just moved from California, where we met, to Oregon, to start a new life together. But, we’d done so impulsively, without jobs lined up, and so found ourselves so broke we once paid for gas with loose change from our cupholders. The fear and frustration made us hot-headed and impulsive.
We were both already competitive by nature and had not yet developed better mechanisms to manage our stress than to take it out on each other. Plus, it was summertime (hot), and we were in our late-20s (a generally ambitious and willful time of life), and we were stressed and burned out, all of which exacerbated and stirred up the fire within us even more.
In Ayurvedic speak, we were expressing unbalanced Pitta dosha—the dosha of fire.
The three doshas of Ayurveda are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. While many people might’ve taken an online quiz to discover their dosha, fewer people know that the doshas are little more than combinations of the five great elements (Pancha Maha-Bhuta) of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether.
According to Ayurveda, this is true for everything that we can see, touch, feel, hear, or experience.
These are the elemental combinations that comprise each dosha:
>> Earth + Water = Kapha
>> Fire = Pitta
>> Air + Ether = Vata
Whether we know it consciously or not, we speak the language of the elements all the time when we talk about needing space (ether), a light conversation (air), a hot temper (fire), going with the flow (water), or feeling secure (earth). In Ayurveda, the elements, and by extension the doshas, live within, around, and between everything that exists—including our bodies, our minds, and, of course, our relationships. When you start thinking this way, you will see the elements playing everywhere.
If I had known Ayurvedic philosophy back when my husband and I were so in our Pitta, I would’ve suggested we take some time and space (ether), cool down (water), and ground ourselves back into what really matters (earth). The problem wasn’t with the fire itself, but the usage of the fire; like fire in the outer world, fire can bring people together, illuminate a path, or provide inspiration, but it can also scatter people apart and destroy everything in its path.
In Ayurveda, our primary dosha is also referred to as our constitution and, in Sanksrit, it is called our Prakriti. Our Prakriti dosha is the unique combination of elements that exist within our bodies at the time of our birth. Note that there is a huge distinction between the dosha of our birth (Prakriti) and the dosha we are currently expressing (our Vikriti), the latter of which is more a reflection of our life choices, the climate we live in, and whatever ways we’ve had to adapt to fit in or survive.
Thus, it requires more than a quick online quiz to get to our true Prakriti because a lot of us come to identify ourselves with who we’ve become, not who we are. To get an accurate picture of who we are, one should work with an Ayurvedic professional who can dig further and other methods (such as pulse diagnosis) to help discover our true dosha.
Some of us are predominantly one dosha, others are a combination of two, and a few are “tri-doshic” (which Ayurveda considers the best formula for health and longevity, you lucky devils).
Once we know our dosha, we can use the philosophy of “like increase like; opposites heal” to keep ourselves in balance. For example, a Vata person can employ the elements inherent in Pitta and Kapha to keep themselves grounded and focused, while a Pitta person ought to use the elements of Vata and Kapha to cool, open up, and stabilize.
I am a Pitta/Vata; my husband is a Kapha/Pitta.
Somehow, we made it through those early years—attributed mostly to the fact that the same fire that caused us to argue also served to keep the passion and intensity of our love alive. We might not easily give up in an argument, but we’ve never given up on each other, either. The fire still burns between us, just at a much healthier, sustainable level.
But, none of us remain static throughout our lifetime. We change because we are meant to change. We are affected by the seasons, the stage of life, the climate, the time of year, the food we eat, current stressors, the kinds of relationships and work we choose, and more.
Later in our marriage, I was sick and mostly bed-bound for several months. I had burned out my Pitta, my fire, and had no energy in reserve. More specifically, my Vata energy (movement, thought, busyness) had blown out my fire like a breeze blows out a candle.
My husband, being Kapha, did have energy in reserve, however, which allowed him to give me support, stability, and a foundation to soften into. His Kapha energy is the energy of holding and resilience (what I often call “stubborn”). He’s the “everything will be okay” Kapha to my “the sky is falling” Vata.
Other times, when we need to creatively navigate a problem—like recently when we had a car on the fritz and had to rethink how we’d play out our day—it’s I who brings the Vata energy to the table and pulls creative ideas and flexible solutions.
We get along best, we’ve noticed, when he comes mostly from his Kapha, and I remain mostly in my Vata. Meaning that I remain connected to the philosophical realm where I dream, imagine, and think, and he maintains and balances me with practicality and logistics—yet there’s still enough fire between us to keep it all lit and active.
If one of us shifts into an unbalanced Pitta, but the other does not, then the pairing still works. For example, if I’m worked up and angry, but he listens and absorbs, then I can just move the anger through and out. Likewise, if he’s angry but I offer thoughtful questions and other perspectives from my Vata energy, he calms down.
But—when we both drop into our Pitta, then that’s when the fireworks happen. Though, it’s tempered by the fact that we are moving into our Vata time of life, which offers wisdom and perspective. (And, it’s also tempered by the fact that after two decades together, we simply don’t want to exert that much energy anymore, and we’ve both learned better relationship skills.)
It’s possible to make any combination of doshas work in relationships, but it’s naturally going to be more difficult when both people are the same dosha, in which case, they can easily pull each other into imbalance. For those relationships, it’s important to bring in the other elements into the living space, conversations, diets, and lifestyles so as to draw balance and support from the outside in.
The philosophy of the doshas is first and foremost one of self-discovery and healing. Once we know our dosha, we can make wiser choices for ourselves.
But, the philosophy can be used for so much more than that, from problem-solving to arguing better to growing together in relationships.
It starts with knowing what you’re made of.